Blind Man with a Pistol


Free and Fair

‘Free and Fair’ elections is quickly becoming a registered trademark, patented by the West, used only in the negative against enemies of Western hegemony. To wit, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and most recently and most sensationally, Iran, all attract Western solicitude, debutante champions of ‘democracy’ soberly measuring the ‘freedom’ and ‘fairness’ of brown people everywhere. When, I wonder, was the last time the Globe and Mail announced ‘Stephen Harper wins free and fair federal election’? Perhaps it would be better for Iran to follow the American-allied Saudi example: if you don’t hold elections at all, no one can complain about their legitimacy.

Hamid Dabashi, the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York, calls the assumption of a fixed election in Iran a ‘social fact’. That is, it is no longer a question whether or not President Ahmadinejad and his followers rigged the election, a critical mass of Iranians now believe they did, and they are fighting with their lives. This makes it easier to ignore the frenzied Western media and their self-righteous braying in the name of free and fair elections (without, it is fair to say, a trace of irony), while still supporting the Iranian people and their struggle for democracy.

I don’t know enough about Iran to pass comment on the status of their revolution, so it would be prudent to start by contextualizing the West’s concern for the state of democracy in Iran. First: since, as written at Revolutionary Flowerpot Society, all elections held in Iran occur within a theocratic system. This means, contrary to what American and Israeli hawks have been successfully insisting since 2002, the presidency of Iran is not the highest executive office in the country: that privilege, as our media is slowly learning, belongs to Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Aside from the fact that such a heirarchy suggests that no election in Iran has been ‘free and fair’ since about 1951 (and the Americans and British made sure those results didn’t stick), the result of this incongruous mixture is that Khamenei has emerged in the Western press paradoxically as a grandfatherly, judicious sage, pleading for stability and pondering a recount, rather than a theocratic patriarch who remains the largest barrier to Iranian democracy (a fact, it should be needless to add, not lost on Iranians).

Furthermore, the incessant tendency of the Western media to deliver heroes and villains to its readership means that since Ahmadinejad is our demon, Mir-Hossein Mousavi must be our angel. Consider first that Mousavi and democracy are rather recent bedfellows, and second, that his chief supporter, Mohammad Khatami, was the recipient of George W. Bush’s infamous ‘Axis of Evil’ prize in 2002 when he, and not Ahmadinejad, was president of Iran. Moreover, the reason that Ahmadinejad is grossly popular with the poor and dispossessed may have less to do with fundamentalist chicanery (although its draw cannot be ignored) and more to do with adroit local politics (h-t croghan), forging populist policies that afford full insurance to impoverished women and free university classes to Azeris. This toxic mixture of ideology and praxis defrauds the West’s monolithic view of Iran and pits oppressive fundamentalism against disenfranchisement of the poor, possible comfort to the Israeli-US war machine and potential of outright anti-revolutionary betrayal. An uncomfortable choice for a Western liberal not up to speed on 100 years or so of Iranian history.

More distressing is the inextricable relationship these elections and the attendant Western response share with the two imperialist wars in the Middle East, the subsequent occupations, and their genesis. The revelation that those who a few years earlier were advocating an American bombing campaign of the Iranian people are now suddenly concerned about their welfare should incite us to revisit what is motivating our desire for Iranian freedom and fairness.  Such an impulse, cognate with the liberal support in 2002 for the Iraq war, suggests that urging a bourgeois revolution in Tehran is consonant with murdering the people behind it; that is, the people involved in both scenarios remain invisible to us. Both are spectacles of our narcissism, fantasies of our media, and betray Western imperialist desire.

The only rational conclusion that can be drawn, then, is to support neither the neo-liberalism and cross-class appeal of Mousavi or the populist, yet theocratic craft of Ahmadinejad. Indeed, as outsiders, it is neither our responsibility nor our purview to comment (a sentiment, surprisingly enough, shared by the American president). The election itself, whatever degree of fraud we choose to apply to it, is no longer an issue. A recount, now counselled by Khamenei, seems like an absurd solution in the wake of recent events. Our obligation, therefore, is to keep our ‘free and fair’ label in our pockets—to support enthusiastically, joyfully and without reservation the struggle on all sides of the Iranian people  who can now glimpse a better world, plumbed from the depths of the delerious and frenetic soup of hope and tragedy in which they have been submerged.

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My general rule #2 * is to support, in my own way, movements/revolutions/actions of the people. (“Don’t forget the masses, croggy, don’t forget the masses.”) Sometimes it is difficult to discern what movements are genuinely representative of the popular will. I was tempted a few years ago to, if not support, at least withhold judgement, on the ‘coup’ that overthrew Chavez in Venezuela until I saw the MSM cheering for the plotters. That was my first inkling that all was not kosher there. You can seldom go wrong in taking an opposite position to NY/LA Times, Wapo and the G&M/Nat Post.

Iran is another ball of wax altogether. The situation there is far more (to use the Elizabeth May word)nuanced. I would find living in a theocracy ..er….er.. constraining, to say the least. But it is their government and these Persians do not seem to be into empire building, so let ‘em go for it.

Yes, they managed to kill a Canadian journalist – but I put much blame for that on our government that is only now discovering that Canadians overseas are still Canadians.

Yet the people of Iran are not pleased with how their form of rule is playing out. I say “seem” because I am not sure how much foreign shit disturbing is going on – the Americans for some reason do not like the Ayatollahs. While the British assume a very Miss Piggy “MOI?” stance. (Always suspicious.)The MSM in this case is FOR the demonstrators – a bad indication there! A short view of history shows that this has nothing to do with freedom, truth and justice – I suspect it has more to do with a ridiculous hope of some corporations that they will once again rule the Iranian oil fields and not the Russians as it now looks. From what I see the demonstrating people are for adherence to their constitution, not extra constitutional change. (Like the American public should be doing with Bush’s depredations of the American constitution, but are not!**)

Anyway – good observations, fine conclusions … thank you for that.

* General rule #1, of course, is to avoid general rules.

** Note to self – think about how the Republicans are trying to take legitimate revulsion to Bush and trying to use it for their own racially charged purposes.

Comment by croghan27




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